As I got into my car, I decided I would stop at my PO Box on the way to Target. I was completely absorbed in mentally checking off items on my to-do list as I waited to exit the parking lot. Then, as I looked to my right, to see if it was safe to pull out onto the road, I saw a man sitting on a walker, with a cardboard sign indicating he was hungry and a homeless veteran.
I noted him, and pulled out, turning left to continue on to the post office. But he was on my mind, and I thought maybe I should turn around. I began to recite all the tasks I needed to do. And I reminded myself how far behind I was. And how inconvenient the trip to Target was for me. I began to rationalize about how I had spent so much time the past week helping other people, and how much I needed to do yet this weekend to get ready to help more people next week. I reminded myself he was just one man, compared to the hundreds we were helping at The Torch, and other people could help him.
I left the post office, and my car drove me back to the Meijer parking lot. I parked and got out, walking toward the man. When I reached him, I was immediately struck by his very deep blue eyes. He watched me approach, and looked surprised when I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Rhonda, what's your name?"
"Fig", he answered with a smile.
"Fig?" I asked- "what's your last name?"
"Newton", he said, smiling bigger.
I have to admit, it took me a minute to put it together. Then I laughed and asked if Fig Newton was really his name. He said it was a nickname he had since he was 15 and that it bothered him then, but now he likes it because his real name is James, and that is very common. He said he had only met one other Fig Newton in his life.
I asked him to tell me his story - and Fig Newton told me he had been in the Army in the late fifties and early sixties. He then spent forty-nine years working the carnival circuit. He said it was a good life, that he never went hungry, and he and his wife raised a daughter in carnivals - and doing a multitude of odd jobs during the winter months. He said he worked until he was 72 years old, and his body just couldn't take it anymore.
For an hour I visited with Fig. He told me repeatedly how blessed his life has been. He explained that his wife died from cancer seven years ago, and that he lives in a tent inside a barn. He told me how grateful he is to the people who allow him to do that, and how he does what he can to pay them back. And he told me about how thankful he is for the VA, because he has had multiple surgeries - and that he is glad he only needs a walker because a wheelchair would make life really difficult for him.
He told me that he had a heart attack and died.
He said he saw himself laying down and then he was moving toward a glowing aura. He never believed in such a thing, although he believed in God, but now he said he saw it, and he isn't afraid of what comes after this life. He told me, with tears in his eyes, "I'm not afraid of what's on the other side. Who knows? Maybe I will get to see my parents again."
And that's when I began to cry.
I wasn't talking to a homeless beggar. I was talking to a human being. Fig is a person with a history and a future. I asked him if people are mean to him when he sits begging. He said for the most part, no, but sometimes people will drive by and yell, "GET A JOB!"
When that happens, he thinks, I'm 72 years old. I can't work. I did have a job. I worked for 49 years.
But he amiably acknowledged that people don't know that. And he is absolutely right. People don't know it, and they don't acknowledge it. He worked in carnivals for all those years. People who tell him to get a job probably go to carnivals. Somebody has to run the rides. But it's a job that has no benefits. No retirement. No security. We want people to do those jobs, but we don't give a thought to the position it puts them in. They are just supposed to disappear when they can't work anymore, I guess.
In my silly arrogance I thought I would stop and help a beggar on the side of the road. Instead, a man who has lived a "full and blessed" life talked with me for an hour - and touched my heart in a major way.
Every morning, Fig says a prayer:
"There are those who will, those who can't, and those who won't. God, please bless those who will."